Fragrant Hills

Sunday, August 4th 2002

It was my last free day in Beijing. I got up at 5am because I wanted to go to Shidu, but again I was thwarted - the weather was horrible, with rain lashing down. I stayed at home until 10am or so, by which time the weather was nicer but it was too late to think about going to Shidu.

I decided instead to go to Xiang Shan - the Fragrant Hills. This would be my greatest triumph on the buses - I went to a nearby bus stop, and after only half an hour of staring at the map in a deep trance of pure concentration, I worked out that I could get the 332 to Yiheyuan and then the 737 to Xiang Shan.

As I got off the bus and walked towards the park entrance, a guy walking along beside me started talking to me. His name was Yanlong, and he turned out to be an engineer in the People's LIberation Army, and he was doing one of his three-times-weekly climbs of Incense Burner Peak, the highest point in the park at 557m high. I had been thinking of getting the cable car up there, but felt now that that would involve a serious loss of face. So I said I would be happy to walk up with Yanlong, and up we went.

The heat and humidity made it a difficult climb. People coming down the trail were soaked from head to toe, and I felt like I probably would be too. Yanlong said his best time for the climb was 28 minutes. I thought we'd be lucky to get up in less than an hour. But Yanlong set a rapid pace, and we ascended at speed. Occasionally he would permit a moment's rest to drink some water. We reached the top in 45 minutes, and I felt shattered. "You did very well!", said Yanlong, but I'm not sure he really meant it.

It was hazy, but the views from the peak were pretty awesome. I chatted to Yanlong while looking out over the outskirts of Beijing. I was sad that I would soon be leaving: in six weeks I'd started to feel quite at home here. Just as I was getting the hang of the place, I was running out of time.

We ambled slowly down the hill again, passing more sweaty people coming up. At the bottom, I said goodbye to Yanlong. I was glad I'd met him - I might not have climbed the hill otherwise. A decent hike up a hill with a good view was a good thing to have done on my last weekend in Beijing.

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